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Pianist Denis Kozhukhin Can Smell the Countryside of Russia When He Plays This Music

Credit: Felix Broede
Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a highly educated member of the Russian elite. But it’s his connection with folk tunes and the countryside that especially touches one of today’s young classical stars. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

On Sunday, August 6th at 1 pm on WRTI, listen to Denis Kozhukhin perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Listen to pianist Denis Kozhukhin talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about his connection to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Radio script:

MUSIC: The beginning of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1

Susan Lewis: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, completed in 1875 between his second and third symphonies, is a work of epic proportion, says pianist Denis Kozhukin.

Denis Kozhukhin: For me this is a symphony for orchestra and piano.

SL: Tchaikovsky was composing in the midst of an ongoing debate in Russian music circles, about whether composers should use western conventions or create a uniquely Russian sound. Tchaikovsky drew on his conservatory training and his love of folk tunes.

DK:  It’s no accident he used all these melodies. Although he was very educated and from a noble family, but still he was considering himself very connected to the people of the countryside.

SL: A connection still strong in this evocative music.

MUSIC: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, Movement 2

DK:  I imagine like a sun rising somewhere in the countryside in Russia. You have a huge field with forest and flowers. It’s almost physical. You can feel that, you can feel the air in the music….Every time I play this piece, I feel like I’m smelling my country!

SL:  Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto premiered in October 1875 in Boston with Hans von Bulow as soloist. Today, it’s frequently performed and has also been featured in movies, and other forms of popular culture.

Watch Denis Kozhukhin play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2:


Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.